The graffiti-tagged Westside “Superblock,” site of long-stalled plans to revive Baltimore’s former retail center on Howard and Lexington streets, is back in the spotlight as a new development group seeks permission to tear down the first group of historic buildings.
Appearing before the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) this afternoon is Westside Partners, an LLC currently not in good standing with the state department of assessments, which was given rights to the project by the Jack Young administration in 2020.
The company wants to demolish 220, 222, 224 and 226 West Fayette Street and 101, 105 and 107 North Howard Street in the city’s “Five & Dime Historic District.”
These structures lack the architectural pizzazz of other “Superblock” structures like Barenberg Optical and are without the historical power of the ex-Read’s Drugstore, site of a 1955 anti-segregation sit-in by Morgan State College students.
But preservationists reportedly plan to speak against their demolition this afternoon, arguing that the structures contribute to the historical and architectural fabric of the area.
Arguing on behalf of demolition will be the partner companies behind Westside: Jayson Williams’ Mayson-Dixon, Christopher Janian’s Vitruvius Co. and Partnered, a boutique developer and consultant from Pittsburgh.
They promise “a mixed-used revival called The Compass, invigorating and revitalizing the growth of locally owned businesses that will bring career-expanding and equity-building opportunities that Baltimore City undeniably deserves.”
Previous partners Jon Pannoni and George Watson of Landmark Partners left the team more than a year ago.
(Landmark Partners was behind City House Charles at Charles and Eager streets, which so destabilized the fully-occupied townhouse next door that the historic building had to be torn down.)
Misbegotten Makeover Plans
For years, preservationists have sought to save threatened parts of the Westside neighborhood.
But misguided and overly complex city redevelopment policies are viewed by many as a major reason for the the area’s steady decline.
Starting two decades ago under Mayor Martin O’Malley, the city purchased properties in the fading commercial area that was once the home of four thriving department stores – Hochschild Kohn’s, Hecht’s, Hutzler’s and Stewart’s.
Small merchants still doing business in the area were pushed out, and the increasingly vacant area was targeted for a suburban-style makeover.
In 2010, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake pushed through the “Superblock” plan.
A New York development group, Lexington Square Partners, was granted an exclusive contract.
City officials predicted national retailers like Bed, Bath & Beyond and Forever 21 would soon set up shop. But after years of making promises and receiving millions in future tax credits, the developers never delivered.
• An inconvenient truth about Superblock (9/21/12)
In 2013, Rawlings-Blake withdrew the contract with Lexington Square and started talking about a “smaller scope” and “a diverse group of developers” for the site.
Now a decade later, the area has plunged even further into vacancy and blight, and City Hall is trying yet again.